An illuminating study of a nontraditional female powerhouse.

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LADY FIRST

THE WORLD OF FIRST LADY SARAH POLK

A sturdy biography of Sarah Childress Polk (1803-1891), who revolutionized the amorphous role of first lady while her husband, James, served as president from 1845 to 1849.

By today’s standards, Sarah, who preferred to be known as “Mrs. James Polk” after marrying when she was just 20, was no feminist—of course, women could not vote during her lifetime, nor could they own property in most states—but she always found ways to become a force in electoral politics despite the legal and societal limitations she faced. Born into an enlightened, financially comfortable Tennessee family, Sarah received more formal education than most women of her era and became comfortable conversing about politics in rooms dominated by men who usually excluded women. She originally met James Polk through her older brother. As Greenberg (History and Women’s Studies/Penn State Univ.; A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico, 2012, etc.), a leading scholar of Manifest Destiny, shows, James saw in Sarah not only a domestic partner, but also a behind-the-scenes manager for his political ambitions. His career progressed from the Tennessee legislature to the House of Representatives to the Tennessee governorship to the presidency of the United States when he was age 49. Sarah and James worked together to expand the geographic reach of their nation, waging a bloody war against Mexico to accomplish their goal. James did not desire to build a long-term political dynasty; he promised to serve only a single four-year term. After the presidency, he planned to return to his slaveholding Southern estates to increase the family wealth and enjoy his childless union with Sarah. Instead, he died the year he left the White House. Sarah lived another four decades as a slaveholding businesswomen, never leaving Tennessee even once but also never retreating into isolation. Even during the Civil War, she managed to support the Confederacy while maintaining influence with Union politicians. Though she is largely forgotten, this concise but thorough biography brings her back into the light.

An illuminating study of a nontraditional female powerhouse.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-35413-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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